Rhamondre Stevenson could be a key player this weekend against the Colts with Damien Harris being downgraded to Out against the Colts. It wouldn't be the first time the rookie has had to carry the load, as he filled in admirably for Harris in Week 10 against the Browns, setting an early career-high with 100 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
That was the kind of potential Stevenson flashed early in the preseason and, after some growing pains out of the gate, the fourth-rounder is coming off another strong performance against the Bills that saw him get 24 carries as he continues to ascend.
"I think when I first got here I was going through little growing pains and things like that," said Stevenson this week. "So yeah, they were on me about all sorts of things, but just getting me better though. It wasn't anything out of the ordinary that they were getting on me [about], it was just to make me better. I appreciate that, I think it worked."
Stevenson and Brandon Bolden will be heavily counted on against the Colts, with practice squad addition Devine Ozigbo, born in Framingham, a call-up possibility after just joining the team on November 30. Bolden got some praise from Bill Belichick on Friday morning, as the vet is having his best season on offense.
"Brandon's one of the best and always has been," said Belichick. "It was great to get him back here. And a couple years we didn't have him whether that was '18 in Miami or last year on the opt-out, we certainly missed him and missed his leadership, his personality. He's always about football, but he has a nice way of putting a smile on his face, cracking a joke, pointing out a mistake that I've made, whatever. He's a good personality that blends that serious, competitive, business side with enjoying the process and enjoying what we do and giving us some of his best performances at the most critical times and biggest games when we need them most."
With Bolden continuing to handle third down, the Patriots offense will have to lean on Stevenson on early downs. His hard-charging ways have been a welcome addition, as he leads the team with 15 broken tackles. After showing early promise in the summer, it's all starting to come together.
"I've been impressed by Rhamondre's growth," said Belichick on Thursday. "He's very coachable. When you ask him to do something, he really tries hard to do it the way that you want him to do it. He's improved greatly in every area of the game. He's a player that has gained a lot of trust and confidence from his teammates, certainly from the coaching staff, really in every area. Running game, the passing game, ball security, blitz pick-up, run reads, run techniques, so forth, using the blockers and understanding the blocking schemes. He just gets better every day he goes out on the field."
"I just feel like I'm progressing in every area possible and I'm really focusing on everything," said Stevenson. "I'm not really putting all my effort into one thing or anything like that, I'm just working on my whole game and trying to get better."
This weekend against the Colts ball security will be atop the list of priorities, as it is every week, but the point of emphasis takes on new meaning when facing a team that leads the league in takeaways.
"That's the number one goal, if you don't have the ball you don't you can't win the game," said Stevenson of hanging on to the football. "We harp on that a lot, you've gotta hold onto the ball. I would say just like any other week, it's very important."
The Colts defense comes in at 4th overall in rushing defense DVOA, but are 15th in rushing yards against and 25th in yards-per-attempt against. There could be opportunities for Stevenson in the run game that can help take some of the pressure off of Mac Jones and Indy's desire to put the game solely on the New England quarterback.
After a restful bye week, Stevenson should be ready to play a sizable role for the final push of the season, especially if he continues on his trajectory of improvement.
"He's been great to work with and has really shown a lot of improvement, consistency, consistency in his daily routine and being out on the field just continues to get better, because he is out there practicing every day and trying to take the instruction and coaching that Ivan [Fears] and Vinnie [Sunseri] and Josh [McDaniels] are giving him," said Belichick. "I think anybody on the team would tell you that he's improved tremendously from where he was, let's call it in July, to where he is now. We see it on defense, we see it on offense. He's just one of those players that's just gotten a lot better and he's pretty good to start with, but he just got a lot better in terms of adjusting his skills and his game to the team that he's on and what we've asked him to do."